Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9528
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Bernau , Anke.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Matters of the Heart: Hermaphrodites, Hyenas, and Metaphor
  • Source: Gender and Conflict in the Middle Ages. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, York, January 5-7 2001.. 2001.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Body Hermaphrodites Hyena, Image of
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: General
  • Century: General
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: Hermaphroditism is a hybrid identity, in all the ways that that term implies. While work on hermaphrodites in the period from 1500-1800 has flourished, remarkably little attention has been paid to the medieval period, even though there clearly is a rich tradition of writing on the hermaphroditic figure at this time. It was discussed in works concerned with sexual generation, anatomy, law, language, religion, morality, sexuality, travel, monsters and politics, showing clearly the complex-- and frequently conflicted--relation between individual identity and other cultural categories. Physically different and anomalous, the hermaphrodite figure raises questions how such a body was perceived and explained, how it was sexed/gendered, and how it was dealt with in relation to other bodies, which were defined as "normal." This was never a static identity. In the later Middle Ages, for instance, hermaphroditism was increasingly confused with homosexuality, showing the inherent instability of categories, the fragility and mutability of identities. I will then focus particularly on the representation of the hermaphroditic hyena in medieval bestiaries (which was read as a symbol of Jewish perfidy) in order to demonstrate and consider how these-- and other--texts represent the hermaphroditic identity as both a "real" body and as a potent symbol. As such, I argue, it is inextricably connected to issues of gender and conflict, raising pressing questions about the relationship between identity and language. [Reproduced by permission of the Gender and Medieval Studies Conference organizers].
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Wales, Cardiff
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2001.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available